Sunnie Yi Ning ’18
Assistant News Editor
Nobel Prize winning Amartya Sen spoke about closing the economic gap, human rights and collective actions at a talk at UMass Amherst on Oct. 20.
Awarded the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences in 1998, Sen was recognized for his “contribution to welfare economics.” He is a decisive force in reshaping views about the fundamental ideas in economics: human goals; and how individuals and communities achieve them. His research has ranged across social choice theory, economic theory, ethics and political philosophy, welfare economics, decision theory, development economics, public health and gender studies. He is now the Thomas W. Lamont University Professor, and a professor of economics and philosophy at Harvard University and senior fellow at the Harvard Society of Fellows.
“No economist in more than a century has had a greater impact on how we define and measure human welfare, with enormous transformative impact on how development is imagined and achieved,” says Vamsi Vakulabharanam, associate professor of economics at UMass Amherst, quoted by the event description.
Titled “What’s the Use of Human Rights?” Sen centered his talk around how to use human rights to help individuals and communities reach their economic goals through policies. Sen said, “There are of course many uses of human rights that we can talk about. For the perspective of human rights, rights everyone is supposed to have by virtue of being a human being, it is particularly relevant in battling against established inequalities.”
Sen went on to describe the curious paradox between the theoretical basis of human right and its relevance in the public discourse and political actions. “Many political philosophers continue to be skeptical of the foundations of human rights,” he said, “Yet human rights are often invoked in practical advocacy and may even have relevance in the ongoing U.S. presidential contest, enlivened by the rhetoric of Mr. Trump with deportations and exclusions. Can the idea of human rights be used with legitimacy and reach?”
According to the Massachusetts Daily Collegian, Professor and Chair of the UMass Economics Department Michael Ash commented, “He is a giant in economics, but he is also a giant in philosophy,” Ash said. “Professor Sen’s work stands out for eliciting both laughter and tears. That’s unusual in economics.”